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When you observe a music class packed with preschoolers, you expect a lot of movement: Moving feet, moving hands, moving bodies. What you might not expect is all that movement equals learning.
“Exposure to music can help children learn to listen, focus, and pay attention,” notes Joe Murphy, founder of Music for Aardvarks Memphis. “Over the long term, it helps kids with language development, enables self-expression, and bonds them to the people in their lives and the world around them.”
Music enters our ears as vibrations. Those vibrations are converted into neural impulses that slip into the brain, spread along a twisting road map of nerves and connections, and funnel into the body to move a tapping foot, a bobbing head, or a happy heart.
So think of music as food for the brain; regular exposure can do a body good. In one study, four-year-olds who listened to one hour of classical music daily for six months showed significant positive changes in brain activity.
Musical activities promote social development
“I’ve seen this a lot, where kids come in and they seem super shy, clinging to their mom,” says Murphy. “And then we embark on our 10-week semester, and by the end of the class it’s just incredible. They’re walking around, participating in the activities, putting the instruments back when it’s time to clean up, a part of the gang. Exposure to music and making music builds a lot of confidence. I see that happen all the time.”
Experiences in music make a mind/body connection, strengthening a child’s ability to cooperate, as well as developing fine motor skills as the fingers and brain works together on tasks. Ideas and language are practiced, too, when a child sings the words of a song or expresses himself through dance.
“There are lot of group activities involved in making music, and I can watch kids kind of gain their sense of self in front of others,” Murphy says. “Music provides a place where they can experiment with and become comfortable with self-expression.”
The musical brain doesn’t grow in isolation, however. It’s influenced by a child’s environment, motivations, and ideas. In turn, experimenting with music, listening to it, performing it, and having it in the background can influence other skills and abilities as your child grows.
“With very young kids I don’t see it as only a music class; it’s a self-expression class,” says Murphy. “I teach the kids that this music environment is place to let yourself be free. Parents, too. Just be a kid again, enjoy life as much as you can.”
Foster music at home. On Friday or Saturday night, shut off the TV and start a dance party or a sing along. You don’t have to sound like a Grammy winner to have fun. Or put on your favorite album from high school and show your kids what moves you. And don’t forget our city’s musical richness. Especially during the summer, free concerts abound: From Levitt Shell to Shelby Farms, Beale Street and beyond, music is ripe for the picking.